Berlinale judge Irons seeks move past comments on gay marriage, women

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Oscar-winning British actor Jeremy Irons launched on Thursday his tenure as Berlin Film Festival president by seeking to end a media controversy centring on past comments he has made about women, abortion and gay marriage.

The 71-year-old Irons told a Berlin press conference marking the opening of the 70th Berlinale that remarks attributed to him from several years ago “had already been refuted and apologized for.”

Irons and the six other members of the jury are to hand out the Berlinale’s prestigious prizes, including the Golden Bear for best picture, at a Hollywood-style gala ceremony on February 29.

Eighteen films, including 16 world premieres, are in the running for the festival’s top prizes, which also includes awards for best actor and actress as well as best director.

But shortly after the Berlinale announced Irons’ appointment as jury president last month, he found himself at the centre of a media controversy for comments he once made, including that gay marriage might result in fathers marrying their sons to avoid inheritance tax. He was accused of playing down sexual harassment of women.

Irons, however, told Thursday’s press conference that he “wholeheartedly” supported moves to address women rights and to protect them from abuse and harassment along with the right of women to choose to have an abortion.

He went on to say: “I applaud legislation for same-sex marriage, wherever it has been attained.

“These three human rights are essential steps towards a civilized and humane society for which we should all continue to strive,” Irons said. “I hope that has put my past comments to bed.”

“There are many parts of the world….(where) such ways of living lead to imprisonment and even to death,” Irons said.

“I hope that some of the films we will be watching will address these problems,” he said.

Canadian director Philippe Falardeau’s coming-of-age drama about a young woman answering fan mail for JD Salinger opens the Berlinale, which is one of the world’s leading film festivals alongside Cannes and Venice.

Set in New York in the 1990s, “My Salinger Year” is based on the best-selling memoir of the same name by US author Joanna Rakoff.

“My Salinger Year” stars US actress Margaret Qualley, who works in a literary agency and dreams of becoming a writer herself.

Falardeau’s movie, which has its world premiere in Berlin, also stars Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver. “My Salinger Year” has not been included in the race for the Golden Bear.

Joining Irons on this year’s jury are Argentinean actress Berenice Bejo, German producer Bettina Brokemper, Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir, American playwright and film-maker Kenneth Lonergan, Italian actor Luca Marinelli and Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho.

Irons also reflected the remarks from the other jury members at Thursday’s press conference in setting out how they planned to judge the films comprising the main competition and the acting performances.

“We are looking for quality,” Irons said.

As for the acting performances, Irons said it is about “what moves you? What connects with you the audience to the actor?”